Author MA Sieghart recently made the point that disturbingly few men read books written by women.
She even made a point of using the byline ‘MA’, rather than her first name, Mary Ann, because she wants men to read the piece.
For men, I’m sure that this is a shocking truth, but for any woman it should come as no surprise that men don’t read books written by women.
Despite the fact that, supposedly, our right to vote and have our own bank accounts means, for many men at least, that we don’t need feminism anymore, it’s still true that every woman you know has experienced sexism and harassment, and that we’ve been told at least once that our opinions aren’t worth a damn because we’re women.
That’s why I try not to use my real name on the blog too much- I know that many men (and some other women) feel intimidated by women with opinions.
It’s a scary fact, but as MA Sieghart highlights, the lack of female authors in most modern men’s reading lists is the reason why many men still treat women like trash. They still honk at us, demand that we stop feeling whatever we’re feeling to smile for them, sexually harass us and generally treat us as lesser than mediocre men.
As the author of this fascinating opinion piece highlights, the data shows that while women are willing to read books written by men, the same cannot be said for the reserve.
That means that many men don’t hear stories of what it’s like to be a woman written by women. Diversity is key for any well-rounded personal education and self-improvement,
It also means that men are more likely to perpetrate violence against women if they don’t view us as intelligent, thinking individuals worthy of their time and empathy. You might recently have seen the ‘If England gets beaten, then so does she’ campaign from charities discussing the potential rise in violence against women if England’s team didn’t win in the recent European Cup prior to our loss.
After that, there were many instances of threats and online hate towards both women and ethnic minorities.
Seems scary, but women face a lot of violence and injustice at the hand of men, even to this very day, and one way to reduce this is to encourage men to read more books by female authors.
For that matter, men also need to read books by authors from a wide range of backgrounds. Whether it’s individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community, differently abled individuals or writers from different races and countries, those who aren’t white, able bodied heterosexual men often struggle to get their stories heard.
Boosting diversity starts at the beginning, which is why we need to improve diversity in school reading lists. We need more books in schools by a wide range of different writers.
It also means teaching kids, particularly boys, that reading the stories and ideas of those who are different to them, particularly women and members of the BAME community, is vital. It’s also fun and can broaden your horizons. Make kids read a variety of books; don’t just give them books that feature the odd black or female character, but are written by white men, like Of Mice And Men, To Kill A Mocking Bird or Disgrace.
Instead, I think that more kids should be reading books by strong women with important stories to tell, like Maya Angelou, Roxane Gay, Margret Atwood, Alice Walker and others. Reading these important stories will help kids to see a diverse range of people actually write about themselves, rather than having to read their stories second hand from the pens of white, male authors.
Improving diversity in reading means that we also have to work hard to improve diversity in writing. I’ve already lamented on the lack of female writers in many genres, including spy fiction, which desperately needs more women writers. Some of the deplorable depictions I’ve seen of female characters in some spy books and thrillers written by men is enough to make you cringe. I’ve seen women president characters that only do as they’re told by men through to women who open their blouses to flirt. Anyone who’s ever even spent time with women should realise that these scenarios are utterly ridiculous, but somehow grown male writers don’t, and these books actually manage to make it past editors, proofreaders and major international publishers and make it into print.
That’s why publishers and the literary community as a whole needs to make a greater push towards even more diversity. We need writers from different backgrounds to be able to publish their stories and make their voices heard. If more women and members of marginalised communities can get their work published, then they’ll be able to slowly help push aside the myriad of male stories trying, and failing, to portray the struggles that women and those from other communities face.
Also, the simple fact is that people can’t read more fiction written by women if it isn’t published and made widely available. As someone who does lots of interviews with writers, one thing I’ve learned is that many women struggle to get their work published. While men do too, women writers, particularly talented ones writing about feminism and the struggles they face in their everyday lives, are often the worst hit. That needs to change if we want to make meaningful strides towards more diversity in the reading lists of everyone, but particularly those who need it the most; those with the privilege. As a white woman and member of the LGBTQIA+ community I’m constantly aware of the deficiencies in my reading, and work to read as widely as possible, but if men aren’t doing the same then nothing’s going to change. I’m not saying I’m perfect, far from it, but I always try my best to improve and broaden my mind.
At the end of the day, I think that the lack of diversity in men’s reading habits seriously limits our society, and is central to the issues that women and members of the LGBTQIA+ and BAME communities face. Men who want to be our allies can do so by reading books by those from marginalised communities. By buying and reading these books you’ll improve your own perception of the world, broaden your horizons and also help to fund unique writers. You’ll be voting with your money and showing publishers that these authors deserve more publicity and support. This blog is a place for a diverse range of writers, so if you have any suggestions, or are a BAME, female or LGBTQIA+ writer yourself and want some promotion and support, then I’m here for you.